Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver said that immigrants should be welcomed as people with human dignity who can aid the renewal of Christianity and Catholic culture in the U.S.

"Immigrant families have always contributed to the richness of our culture – particularly the richness of American Catholic culture," Archbishop Aquila said in a March 5 speech at the local Regis University chapel.

Supporting immigrant families may be "our clearest hope for the restoration of Christian culture in the United States" in light of family breakdown and cultural decline across the country, he noted.

"I hope that America can become a civilization of love. Promoting family life through immigration law is a way to promote a civilization of love, and a culture of life."

The archbishop said immigrants should not be viewed "solely through a financial lens" as workers with economic potential. Rather, they are members of families "essential to our social order."

"They have something to contribute to our national order, because they are human beings, endowed with real dignity," he said.

Immigration has had a personal impact on the life of the archbishop. His four grandparents came from "the same small town in Sicily," sometimes following their own parents to the U.S.

"They left everything they had because they needed what America had to offer: the prospect of jobs, of stability, of schools, and doctors, and enough food to feed their children."

He noted the example of the Holy Family in Mary and Joseph's flight from Herod to Egypt.

"Like today's immigrants, they did not stay forever. They stayed as long as they needed to, and then they returned home," the archbishop said.

The archbishop said as many as one million legal immigrants enter America each year, joining another 40 million legal immigrants already here. Another 1.5 million enter the U.S. illegally each year.

He said U.S. immigration law is "broken" and set up for past immigration patterns of families who travel together, work in a manufacturing economy and intend to stay permanently. Present forms of immigration are "increasingly temporary and increasingly undocumented."

The archbishop observed that America is reliant on immigrant labor in agriculture, the service industry, and in oil and mineral extraction.

Justification for breaking immigration law might be applicable "in extreme circumstances" but the archbishop said that for the most part would-be immigrants "should follow the law."

He criticized lawbreaking but said immigration laws should also be "sensible" and reflect "the needs of nations and the needs of immigrants."

He called for an immigration policy which "respects the sovereignty of the family" and allows husbands, wives and their children to obtain visas together easily "even when only the father will work."

He also encouraged alternatives to deportation when it affects families, stressing the duty of government to ensure a just wage for workers that allows them to support "the children God gives them."

The right to migrate is "rooted in natural law," he said, citing the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Archbishop Aquila said Americans have an obligation to "welcome foreigners in search of security and a just livelihood," though he acknowledged that this obligation must be tempered by American's economic conditions and security concerns. He acknowledged nations' "right to security," which includes secure borders and action against illegal immigration.

He reflected that immigration stems from economic disparity between nations. This means immigrant-receiving countries should consider whether their own economic policy supports "economic growth and administrative integrity" in other countries. Well-run countries, he said, have a duty to encourage other countries to reform.

The archbishop noted that Christians must particularly try to see Jesus in the immigrant.

"Jesus Christ was an immigrant. If we find ways to welcome the immigrants around us, to respect their dignity and freedom, to treat them with justice – we will have welcomed Jesus Christ, and the Holy Family. Whatever we do for the immigrants among us, we will have done for Christ, Our Lord," he said.